Academic journal article Social Education

Wandering Behind: Talking about Pearl Harbor

Academic journal article Social Education

Wandering Behind: Talking about Pearl Harbor

Article excerpt

WHEN I WAS A KID my dad wouldn't talk about the war. He would talk about the Depression. How he and Uncle Mickey would catch strings of perch as long as their legs and haul them down to the German bar at the corner and sell them for Friday night fish fry. About his mother gathering dandelions for salad. His father shooting blackbirds for meat. He'd talk about coming back from the war, working as a gandydancer on the Milwaukee Road tracks, marrying Mom and spending weekends helping her father on the farm.

I didn't hear Dad talk about the war until I became a teacher and I started bringing him to classrooms as a guest speaker. He'd come armed with a model of the battleship Arizona, a poster of the harbor, old newspapers; he'd wear his Pearl Harbor Survivors Association cap. A room full of 5th or 8th graders would sit wide-eyed, listening to him tell of how surprised he was that morning, how he thought it was a drill, how he had almost gone to church with his best friend that Sunday, but didn't. How his friend had been killed, strafed while walking to mass.

He'd tell how on that morning eight ships sat in battleship row, tied two by two and bow to stem. Seven battleships, and one little repair ship, the Vestal. His ship. It lay tied to the Arizona, like a side car.

And how, since it was Sunday morning, most of the sailors were still below decks asleep. And how on the Arizona there were over 1,300 men, seven sets of brothers, the ship's orchestra. And there were thousands of silk bags, each holding 100 pounds of gunpowder that could hurl the ship's huge shells over the horizon. How a bomb found those bags. How it crashed through one deck, two decks, then exploded among the silk and gunpowder, setting off an explosion that ripped off the Arizona's bow and flung it into the battleship berthed ahead. He tells them how the explosion rocked his little ship, and how he was sent flying from his station on the ship's bridge in a tornado of metal and glass.

He shows a famous picture of that explosion that looks abstractly beautiful. The deep red and orange of the fireball. The black horror of the smoke. It is easy to forget that in that instant a thousand men died. …

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